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An American Dream

By Greg Aurand

To Whom It May Concern:

I owe the IRS and the State of Idaho nearly $34,000 in income taxes.

They are in the process (or have already done so) of filing lien and levy against my property (what little I have).  They may then seize my wages, bank accounts, assets, and property to pay the debt I owe.  I also owe the local hospital, clinic and regional heart center for emergency treatment I received for tachyarrhythmia and hypertension.  I have been unemployed since August of 2001.  I have been unable to secure any meaningful employment.  I received money from an inheritance in 2001 and 2002.  I  have used this money to live on.  I overestimated the amount of money I would receive and my ability to put it to good use.  I received less than anticipated and, being unable to secure employment, essentially ran out of money.  Now I am in debt, and in jeopardy of losing everything I have.  I just cannot seem to get over the hump and free myself of poverty, debt and unemployment.

How I ended up in this situation has been a long and difficult struggle for me personally.  I'm not sure where to begin, but some background information about myself may help you understand.  

I grew up in Iowa, graduated high school in 1979, and worked for the Chicago and Northwestern Rail Road.  I was laid off in 1980.After becoming unemployed, I decided to enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in March of 1981.  During the five years I served I was promoted meritoriously to the ranks of Corporal and Sergeant and was awarded the Navy Achievement Medal for Meritorious Achievement.  I was a career Marine, and had a promising future ahead of me. However, I decided to end my enlistment to obtain a college education and some pride for my father.

After being honorably discharged from the Marine Corps, I selected Idaho  as the best place to receive a college education.  I put myself through  school with the Veterans Education Assistance Program (a small monthly allotment of $227), money I had saved and earned working, grants and student loans.  I graduated from the University of Idaho in 1993 with a B.S. in Wildland Recreation Management, a minor in Natural Resource Communication, 168 semester credits, a grade point average of 3.12, credit card dept, a bad credit rating, and over eighteen thousand dollars in student loan principle now due.    

Since graduation, I have not been able to obtain permanent full time employment.  I have essentially worked Seasonal Jobs.  I have been an environmental education intern, a seasonal street maintenance worker, a seasonal field forester, a seasonal wildland fire fighter, a seasonal building maintenance worker, and a seasonal park ranger.  I have been more than successful at all these occupations, but unable to secure full time permanent employment with any of these or other employers.  During my lay-off periods I collected Unemployment Insurance and completed the required job searches.

I was last employed in Lewiston with a company they recruited.  A telemarketing company.  I worked on the phones for nine months, and then took a position in quality control for nine more months.  Needless to say, working in this field disgusted me.  I quit when my position was eliminated and I was required to go back and work on the phones.  The company moved out of town this past summer and relocated to India, of all places.

During the summers I was in school I worked seasonally for the Forest Service as a Forest Technician and a Naturalist and lived in their bunkhouses.  While in school, I rented a small apartment.  However, when I worked as a park ranger I lived in a tent for three months during the summer of 1996.  That fall I purchased a 12-foot camper and lived throughout the winter and through the summer of 1997.  I took a winter job at another park and was given government housing until I was laid off in the fall of 1998.  I moved to Lewiston and purchased a 19-foot camper and lived in that for three years and three months.

I remained unemployed the entire year of 1999 in Lewiston, collected unemployment for most of the year and completed the required job searches; I went on food stamps, community assistance, and energy assistance and completed the required job searches for the food stamp program.  The telemarketing company hired me the last week of December 1999.  

Needless to say, I was depressed about my failure to obtain a permanent job with any of my former employers.  I had lost all confidence in my ability to secure a full time job.  For over a year I was unable to land even a part time job in Lewiston.  I had low self-esteem until the telemarketing company hired me.  At first this was an exciting job; however, this soon changed after working on the phones, when I realized I was the telemarketer that everyone loves to hate.  I didn't trust the products the company sold and disliked calling people who were hostile towards telemarketers.  Unfortunately it is sometimes the only employment in town.

In April of 2000 my father died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Suicide.  This devastated me.  I am still not sure I'm over it yet.  I have fits of sorrow and grief, anger and rage.  It's frustrating and confusing and there just aren't any answers.  Unfortunately I was unable to attend his funeral in Iowa, which angered me further.  I loved and respected him very much, and it hurts to know I'm missing out on all the things we would have done together.  

In May of 2000 my mother was evacuated from Los Alamos, NM and her house burned down in a wild fire started accidentally by the Park Service.  This was traumatic and very sad.  It was scary and I was very worried about the safety of my mother.  She had lost her home and she is not well.  My mother is in her second cancer remission and has suffered two heart attacks.

I took a leave of absence from work for a month to travel to New Mexico to help my mother and make sure she was safe and taken care of.  And then I went to Iowa to say goodbye and pay my respects to my father and meet with the executors.  

In March of 2002, I had a reunion with my best friend after losing contact for nine years.  We served together during our first enlistment in the Marine Corps and remained in close contact until 1995.  He remained in the Corps for 15 years, and was then medically discharged.  My friend was like a brother to me and I loved him very much.  In September 2002 my friend died of a self-inflected gunshot wound.  Suicide.  This crushed me beyond limits I thought possible.  I am having difficulty writing about it right now.  This Marine was a highly decorated combat veteran. He was a hero to me and to many, many other people who loved him as well.  I was able to attend his funeral.  I was a pallbearer at his military honors burial at a National Veterans Cemetery.

Once again I suffered and continue to suffer the loss, confusion, and frustration at a needless death.  

I have spent the past year volunteering my time to help his mother understand the Marine behind the man.  I have unselfishly dedicated myself to setting the record straight for my Brother Marine.  I have logged hundreds and hundreds of hours working on three main projects for him and his Mother.

My friend was a 100% disabled veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  He had also broken his neck while being shot at in Somalia.  This, he thought entitled him to a Purple Heart Medal.  That March, during our reunion, I promised him I would look into it. Unfortunately he died before I could finish my work.  

His mother has given me access to his military records for my research. During my initial review I discovered he had been overlooked for a Medal he should have been awarded during the first Gulf War in 1990.  I created a recommendation package and submitted it in December of 2002.  The Commandant of the Marine Corps approved my recommendation and my friend was awarded the Armed Forced Reserve Medal with Bronze Letter "M" (Posthumously) in February of 2003.  I only wish he were here so I could pin it on him.

It took me a year to document and verify all his medals, ribbons, and awards for his family.  I created a small booklet with color graphics describing each medal, ribbon and award, what the award is, why it was awarded, and every time he received an award.  Myself and the other pallbearers presented his mother with a custom made walnut box to store all his awards and medals.  I personally hand finished the box with hand  rubbed oil and wax and had it engraved with the Marine Corps emblem and  his name, rank and serial number.

This past August I completed my research for the Purple Heart Medal and submitted an award recommendation package to the Commandant of the Marine Corps.  To date I have not heard back from them.

During the summer of 2003, I also completed research on my father's military service.  I was able to obtain his military service records and DD214 and submitted requests for his veteran's burial benefits.  This was not done during his funeral.  I received his burial flag, submitted a request for the Presidential Memorial Certificate, and ordered his gravesite marker.  Unfortunately, too much time had expired to receive the funeral allotment.

I took two buddies bow hunting on September 29th.  While they hunted, I had two sudden attacks of Ventricular Tachycardia or Tachyarrhythmia lasting nearly an hour each.  What happens is my heart suddenly starts beating at nearly 180 beats per minute, sometimes even faster.  At this rate it can't pump blood efficiently.  I lose circulation, my hands and arms turn blue, I can't catch my breath, and I'm on the verge of passing out.  At just past 5:00pm that evening, while sitting on the couch, I had another sudden attack, but this one felt different -- worse!  I called my neighbors and they took me to the local hospital emergency room.  It took the doctors over 2 hours to slow my heart rate down.  My blood pressure was 245/163 and my heart rate was 183 beats per minute.  Needless to say this was very scary!  I've been diagnosed with Hypertension, a thickened heart, and an arrhythmia, either Ventricular Tachycardia or Tachyarrhythmia.  The doctors aren't sure yet.  My illnesses may cause stroke, or sudden cardiac death.  They have not been able to diagnose the cause of the arrhythmia, but are treating me for the hypertension.  I have had to cancel my follow-up appointments with the cardiologist and further testing.  I cannot afford to continue with treatment and testing, since this incident has put me further in debt.

I inherited 20% of my father's estate.  A large part of his estate was an IRA.  The IRS and the State of Iowa assessed the value of the IRA along with the rest of his property and business and collected estate taxes -- death taxes in excess of $140,000 to the IRS and $80,000 to the state of Iowa.

To pay the estate taxes, my family was required to sell our half interest in the family farm.  Since 1962, it was the place I grew up, hunted and fished, and learned the value of hard work and the ethics of conservation. My father's ashes are now scattered on the hill of that wonderful place. And it is no longer in the family.  We now need permission to visit.  The gravesite marker I have requested cannot be place there according to the VA, it must be placed in a distant cemetery somewhere else.  

When the moneys from the estate were disbursed, I was required to pay income taxes on that portion which came from the IRA.  The law does not allow me to roll it over into an IRA in my name.  This money was taxed twice.  I just don't understand how they can justify that.  

I used the money to better my life - or so I thought that's what I was doing.  My student loans were delinquent, and I used the money to rehabilitate them over a year and then I paid them off in 2002.  For my education, I paid over $32,000 in principle and interest from student loans alone.  And this past tax year, I was not allowed to deduct the interest paid on those loans because "I earned too much."

I moved out of my camper in March of 2002 and purchased a small doublewide trailer.  I relocated from Lewiston up the valley seven miles from Orofino.  Because I lived on the money I received, instead of paying the estimated income tax (which I didn't know I could do), I am now in jeopardy of losing everything I have, even property I owned before my father died.

Yes, I made some mistakes.  Circumstances have worked against me as well. I did not foresee being unemployed for so long.  My debt to the government is very large in my mind.  So large, that I cannot imagine ever getting out from under it.  Yet, President Bush just gave away 82 BILLION dollars of our money to the Iraqis.  What is my dept compared to just this one instance of aid given to a foreign country.  It just doesn't make sense to me that they can receive so much of our help in an unimaginably large amount of money, and I cannot find or receive any aid or relief from my debt.  I'm not against paying my fair share of taxes to support our troops, but in my mind the government taxed my inheritance twice.  What is my debt compared to the billions and billions Congress and the President spend every year?  I will be stripped of my home, and my property and left to the streets like a common criminal.

Semper Fi,

Gregory D. Aurand.  
4441 Cavendish Road #5
Lenore, Idaho 83541
(208) 476-0757

10 November 2003


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This item is part of historian, author, editor, and educator Remy Benoit's ongoing weblog for Veterans, writers, students, and others who believe in learning from and making history; including thousands of articles and posts and the free writing seminar, Using History for Healing and Writing.

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